In a country, where Reserve Bank of India, the apex financial institution, is open to queries under Right to Information Act, the J&K Bank has been hiding every information, which the citizens deserve to know.
J&K Bank is running in losses. To salvage the sinking bank, the state government recently made an equity infusion of Rs 532 crore. Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu on January 11 admitted that the bank was facing governance deficit for years, leading to an increase of Rs 6,000 crore in its non-performing assets (NPAs).
Amid poor state-of-the-affairs, rumor mills are rife that recently the bank made another 400 backdoor appointments. But no one has been able to get an access to the factual details.
Apart from keeping a tight lid on financial details, the bank has also hidden its recruitment details. For the past decade, the bank never made its list of recruitments public, neither did it disclose their merit list.
There’s equally no information available as to who all were the beneficiary of the hefty loans which led to an increase in NPAs. If a shopkeeper was denied relief during the period of unrest in 2016, how can the government gift the same taxpayer’s money to the bank to recover it from debts?
Amid mysterious silence over this undue secrecy, former Chief Information Commissioner, Ghulam Rasool Sufi has taken to the social media with some startling revelations on how J&K Bank has never cared about RTI over the years.
Sufi, who remained a dynamic CIC for five years, till his superannuation in February 2016, mainly blames the political parties for the mess. He says that the ruling PDP-BJP coalition as well as the opposition, National Conference, is silent over the “death” of RTI in the state. A year later, the office of CIC is defunct as no one was appointed as Sufi’s successor.
During an exclusive chat with InUth, Sufi equally lamented on the role played by the national media. “National media goes hammers and tongs against anything they find ‘anti-national’ in Kashmir. How come are they silent over this systematic death of RTI here?”
Sufi says that the injustice prompted him to take to social media to vent out his feelings and make people aware about the undue secrecy maintained by the J&K Bank and the role RTI could play to bring in transparency.
For some time now, concerned residents of J&K are worried and perturbed by the performance of J&K bank: a financial institution of repute which has earlier shown profits as compared to a number of so-called public sector undertakings which are consistently running on losses. These apprehensions now stand confirmed by the frank admission of finance minister Mr Drabu and the current chairman of the bank. the main reason (see today’s greater Kashmir) of the bank’s downfall is its non-performing assets. The J&K bank not only catered to the small businesses of J&K but had also attracted the imagination of small investors particularly the valley depositors. Even in this age of transparency and accountability, people are debarred for having even minimum information about the bank’s working.
Immediately after NC- Congress government took laudable step of bringing a strong transparency law in the state, a few enthusiastic J&K information seekers had jointly invoked their right to information and sought some information from the bank which was refused to them directly stating that J&K bank was not a public authority and hence does not fall under the per view of J&K state RTI ACT. The matter ultimately landed in the state information
The matter ultimately landed in the state information commission. Keeping in view the important question of law to adjudicate whether J&K bank was a public authority and thus liable to be transparent. The bank stoutly denied its liability under the Act and engaged one of the best legal minds of the state to justify their obstinate stand not to be transparent. The commission heard the bank in several
The commission heard the bank in several sitting and before drafting the order I not only studied the legal position but searched the archives in Jammu archives and found the establishment of the bank was one of the golden achievements of Maharaja Hari Singh who had personally persuaded some sincere rich people of the state to become share holders along with the state government.
The Maharaja had undertaken personally where the bank office should be, who would be manager of bank (presently chairman) allotted the land and with his deep involvement the bank was established. Thus the late Maharaja Hari Singh was really acting as an independent ruler who was sincerely interested to establish a state bank after making a deep and painstaking study of the issue, placing reliance on Maharaja’s proclamations, the Indian companies act , various supreme court and high court decisions and analyzing state governments administrative control, its more than fifty percent capital contribution the commission declared the bank to be public authority and liable to disclose the information as permissible under the RTI ACT and directed bank to comply the order within stipulated time .The bank took no time to challenge this unanimous decision of the commission in the J&K high court. Initially the matter was heard in the court of the then honourable justice Hassnain Masoodi who refused to grant any stay but ultimately the bank was granted stay by some other honourable judge .4 years have elapsed the stay continues , though the information sought was not only relevant for the permanent functioning of the bank but also of the time bound nature that is to say the disclose of the said information has lost the relevance .It was painful to observe that most of applicants from Kashmir valley mysteriously disappeared from the scene They were initially enthusiastic to get the information but did not pursue the proceeding in the honourable high court .The honourable supreme court has in certain decisions declared banks including reserve bank of India to be liable to disclose the information under the RTI act .
One of the reasons for present state of poor financial health of the bank is much guarded secret functioning of the bank , the political interference which has kept under wrap the liberal, reckless and thoughtless sanctioning of loans to non state subjects some of the borrowers have been allegedly friends of politicians. Certain loans have been sanctioned for establishing businesses but allegedly used for erecting huge residential building without any check by bank .Sometime back I had accidental brief interaction with the important politician of present dispensation and had suggested that J&K bank be advised that notwithstanding the bank stand that it’s not under the per view of J&K state RTI Act let the bank voluntarily declare to disclose information sought by residents of state on any point of information as decided by bank and reserve its right not to disclose information on few points .This practice has been followed by number of non governmental institutions outside the state who are not strictly falling under the transparency laws.
This suggestion obviously and understandably fell on deaf ears. I, not in the capacity of former CIC but as a concerned citizen and an account holder and share holder of J&K bank make humble and respectful appeal to the honourable chief justice of J&K high court to fix the hearing of J&K state information commission decision declaring the bank a public authority I would also request civil society to think whether it can become an intervener in the case and approach the honourable chief justice J&K high court with a request to decide the issue at an earliest. It’s nobody’s case to claim that the transparency law is the only remedy for restoring the financial health of J&K bank but it would have definitely acted as a deterrent to curb number of acts of financial indiscipline and curtail the unbridled discretion of the management and political interference .